Waiban 外办 Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO)
The waibans (Foreign Affairs Officer) I’ve experiened range from bloodyminded crooks to incompetent halfwits – Out of the 5 I’ve dealt with 2 were incompetent, 2 serial liars and only 1 I would consider a straight person.
My current waiban would squarly go into the second category. Waibans are quite powerful people and have a lot of authority, therefore they delegate their real work to others, usually a over-eager student looking for a foot on the university career ladder. However, this person is given no authority to do anything of any consequence, therefore cannot act without first asking the waiban for permission. You would think this defeats the purpose of having subordinates to do your paperwork but there is a very good reason for it.
Ultimately everything that is done by the waibans dept (at jida this is ironically titled the dept of international co-operation… haha) comes back to the boss. If there is a problem he or she will take the flack for it. This is what they told me anyway, but I’m not convinced.
I think a bigger reason is that by delegating to somebody else, they may do a better job than the boss and so could ultimatly threaten their position. By keeping everyone under them, the boss exterts a lot of control and keeps his/her own positon secure.
Often therefore, if the boss isn’t around nothing of any consequence can get done! A great example of this is when I needed to get my visa extended, a quite straight-forward process for them you would think. However the boss has been on ‘business‘ in Taiwan for the last month and so I had to wait until she got back!
The impression I get is that people in positions of power and influence are terrified of losing their status, and will go to lengths that are detriment of others to protect themselves. Based on recent history they have good reason to be so, it wasn’t long ago things were so different here.
So, trying to get what you want from the waiban is often very difficult if it involves them actually doing their job, doubly so if it invlves money owed to you. The waiban’s primary function, in my eyes, is to skim as much of the foreign teachers salary as possible into their own pockets, and to perhaps help out the foreign techers if they feel inclined to do so!
The FAO is no fool and knows the inner workings of the system much better than you and so uses this position to achieve a degree of inequality of bargaining power , in induces duress to get what he/she wants. The law will not help you, contractual issues are simply not so important.
The waibans favourite tactic is to agree with you and say ‘ok, we’ll sort it out’ so you leave happy thinking things are resolved. Wrong. 😡 Come the next week nothing has been done – it’s the oldest trick in the book the ‘tell you what you want to hear’ line.
I have learnt a few ways to deal with this, firstly:
Complain, complain, complain. Call them all the time, keep hasseling them in the end they will capitulate, as they simply want you to go away so they can get on with playing QQ games and downloading that lastest Korean soap.
If you dont have the time or patients to do this tape record and or ask him/her to write down what has been promised. If they have nothing to hide they will have no problem in doing this. Actually, this is my favourite technique, I like to throw it in during a meeting as an off-the-cuff comment ‘so you’d have no problem in signing this, right?’ 😀
Don’t threaten them with ‘but in my country bla bla bla‘ that’s meaningless here and just shows how little you understand about this place. I also would never directly threaten somebody directly face to face – do not get angry or shout – act forcefully but don’t lose your temper for that is a big faux pas. I prefer more sinister and subtle tactics, like anonymous letters and picking up on something that is of value to the waiban.
In my instance, the reputation of the school, they were at pains to tell me how great this university is, how great the students are , how we’ve spent billions yuan on this, that and the other… Actually, I don’t really care. Honestly speaking, there isn’t a great divide (reputations aside -the name of the school means everything) between the levels of schools. I’m more interested in the things that impact on me – like accommodation, where/when I work, salary and will you actually pay me!
And so i made a veiled reference that it would be a shame for people to hear bad stories about teachers at Jida, that you don’t pay your teachers….They’re still sorting things out, but they owe all the teachers their vacation pay – I’m talking more than 10K per teacher… I’ll write in depth about it if they dont pay up…..
They will speak big words, promise so much, and fool many -afterall they’ve been doing this for years – the crunch is in what they do, not what they say.
Someone said to me that you seem to keep stepping into holes, I answer this by saying it comes with the territory. It’s the way it is in this job, especially so in provincial Changchun. it’s not a question of falling into holes but a question of there being holes everywhere. You have to deal with it and in a way， it’s like a game.
Direct action should be used sparingly, and is a last resort – I have used this once in relation to my apartment. I simply said I won’t teach until you sort this out as it is very serious. This worked and within 24 hours I had a new place, but this should be used carefully, you must have other alternatives first.
I think I suffer more than most as people don’t take me seriously, because of a combination of my age my appearance. They think he looks friendly, young and inexperienced, so we can mess with him. He won’t understand, he probably won’t care, he’s fair game. I still get this despite people knowing I’ve been here a while and I know how things are, Maybe If I could grow a beard and shave my head then people would be afriad of me?
It’s annoying when people judge you like this, but we all judge people by the way they look to an extent, its a fact of life.